If your employees perform work tasks that are repetitive, or involve awkward postures or use of high force, they may be at risk of developing repetitive strain injuries.
What are repetitive strain injuries?
Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) or musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are injuries to soft tissues, such as tendons, muscles, nerves, joints, that develop over time.
They lead to persistent pain, usually, in the back, neck, shoulders, hands, wrists, elbows. If the repetitive work involves use of legs, they may also occur in legs, feet, ankles, hips.
Are RSIs a serious health hazard?
Yes. RSIs should not be taken lightly. Not only are they very painful, but if left untreated they may cause irreversible damage.
It is critical that you train your workers to recognize the symptoms of RSIs so that timely treatment can be provided.
Besides causing suffering to employees and affecting their ability to work, RSIs also prove costly to employers.
Work-related RSIs are the most common type of time-lost injury and a major source of lost-time compensation claims.
Indirect expenses to employers include lost productivity and time and resources spent recruiting and training replacements for injured workers.
What are the symptoms of repetitive strain injuries?
Repetitive strain injuries develop slowly. At first the pain may be mild and experienced only while carrying out a repetitive task.
As the injury becomes more severe, the pain and other symptoms may become constant or recurring. If left untreated, the injury may become permanent.
Symptoms may vary but commonly include:
- Joint stiffness
- Muscle tightness
- Dry palms
- Swelling and redness in the affected area
What are the causes of repetitive strain injuries?
Work that involves repetitive movements, like as cutting meat, using a computer mouse, working on a production line, loading and unloading cargo, increases risk of developing RSIs.
Several factors working in combination can cause work-related RSIs. These include:
- Continual repetition involving movements such as lifting, pulling, pushing, gripping, bending, holding, twisting, etc.
- Fixed or poor body postures
- Doing fast-paced repetitive work for long durations without sufficient breaks
- Use of force that puts repeated pressure on small parts of the body such as hands or wrists
- Cold temperatures (reduce blood flow to arms and hands)
How can I prevent RSIs in the workplace?
It is important that you identify the jobs with RSI risks in your workplace. You should then conduct a risk assessment in consultation with your joint health and safety committee or your health and safety representative.
The risk assessment will help you decide on the control measures required to eliminate or reduce repetitive strain injury risks.
Here are some ways to eliminate or minimize RSI risks:
Job design changes
These are administrative changes that help improve work conditions. Examples of job design changes include:
- Job enlargement to include greater variety of tasks so that different muscle groups are used
- Job rotation so that one employee is not stuck doing a repetitive task for long durations
- Mechanizing or automating tasks
Workplace design changes
A poorly designed workplace that puts unnecessary physical strain on workers can lead to discomfort, pains, fatigue, and over a period – RSIs.
It is important that a workplace (including elements such as flooring, seats, tools) be designed for working comfortably.
For instance, a workstation that is adjusted to a worker’s height and body size will allow the worker to carry out tasks safely.
Other ways to prevent injuries include using assistive devices, such as hoists and/or other mechanical handling devices.
Muscle strain and awkward positions can also be reduced by use of tools and equipment appropriate for the job at hand.
You should also train your employees in safe work procedures (for example, adjusting workstations, sitting or working in correct postures), proper use of PPE (gloves, elbow pads, knee pads) and/or mechanical lifting devices.
The training must also include educating workers about the early signs of RSIs and the long-term health impact of such injuries. Your staff should also know how to report these and about the elimination and prevention strategies.
Allow for short breaks
Encourage your employees to take short, frequent breaks so that their muscles can get sufficient rest and respite from the strain caused by repetitive tasks during a work shift.
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